In 1993, Brigadier General José Francisco Gallardo of the Mexican Armed Forces made concrete suggestions for a reform of the Mexican Armed Forces. The high-ranking official, who had started his military career at the age of 18 in 1963, was concerned about the systematic abuse of power within the army and, since 1986, advocated for reform. Gallardo had combined his military training with a solid civil education: in addition to pursuing his career in the army, he also studied Political Sciences and Public Administration at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where he was awarded the title of PhD in 2006.
Gallardo went public with his suggestions in October 1993 in an article in the journal Forum – and the close-knit apparatus of the Mexican army immediately hit back. Three months later, the journal’s editor was accused of libel and of breaking the Publishing law; and Gallardo was detained and accused before a military tribunal. Some of the charges brought were previous ones of which he had already been cleared, others were new. Over the next few years the General – who was kept in detention as distinct to, for example, released on bail – was subjected to a trial which, according to national and international observers, was riddled with irregularities. In 1996, while the trial was still ongoing, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights recommended that Gallardo’s liberation from prison and an investigation into the harassment campaign against him– to no avail. The National Human Rights Commission and the International PEN Club called for his release, and Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. Nevertheless, in 1998, Gallardo was sentenced to two terms of 14-year prison sentences. The army also tried to strip him off his military grades.
In 2001, after a sustained national and international campaign for his liberation, President Vicente Fox ordered the General’s release from prison. Gallardo is now a researcher at the UNAM, works for the Human Rights commission of the Mexican Senate, is an active member of Amnesty International, Pen International, the Frente Méxicano Pro Derecho Humanos, the Red de Organismos de Derechos Humanos 19 de octubre “Digna Ochoa”, and he is a messenger of Peace of the United Nations. Nevertheless, the unfairness of his trial and the existence of a sustained campaign of persecution against him was never officially recognized.
General Dr. Gallardo donated his personal archive to the CAMeNA in August 2009. The collection E is mostly available digitally, and all of it is accessible to the public on the premises of the CAMeNA. Some of the documents document the abuses of power carried out by the army which brought the General to advocate for reform. Among these are analyses of military activity in Chiapas before and after the Zapatista Uprising in 1994 (not yet available digitally), analyses of armed groups such as the EPR, ERPI, FARP, and the Liga Comunista; as well as the General’s assessments of some right-wing paramilitary groups and of organized crime.
Other documents refer to the legal persecution of the General, including court documents such as statements of accusation and defense, or the document that details his personal effects upon his detention. A collection of his own and his family’s correspondence covering the time period from 1986 (when he published his Master’s thesis calling for the creation of the position of an ombudsman for the Mexican army) until the end of 2002 and 2007 respectively, show the resolve and integrity of Gallardo and his family and friends, as well as the impact that the General’s dissent and his detention had on family life and on relationships. A range of documents (filed under ‘social movements’) document the committed national and international solidarity that activists built around his case.
In contradistinction to those previously mentioned in relation to the CAMeNA – Gregorio Selser, Marta Ventura, Carlos Fazio, Raquel Gutiérrez , the activists of the 1988 student movement – General Dr. José Francisco Gallardo dissented and spoke out from withina repressive organisation. His example shows that entanglement within an organisation even as powerful, close-knit, closed-off as the Mexican army is no reason or excuse for suspending good judgement or critical thinking. Gallardo has publicly reflected on how important his studies at the UNAM were for him to take a critical position and to emancipate his values and his thinking from military discipline and the army’s worldview. They provided him with a counterweight, and gave him the chance to pursue knowledge and develop critical abilities to a point where they interacted with his personal integrity so that he could withstand extreme pressure. Gallardo’s example makes a strong case for the autonomous pursuit of knowledge and of thinking precisely in contexts of entanglement – a pursuit that is currently in many places, once again, under threat.
Cornelia Gräbner would like to acknowledge The Leverhulme Trust’s support for the research project ‘Acquiescent Imaginaries’. She would also like to thank the CAMeNA staff for their support.